This blog first appeared as Marielle De Blois' piece for LinkedIn
By Marielle De Blois
Even with the greatest minds and deep resources behind them, 95% of all innovations fail. Why?
There are many ways that innovations can go awry, but there are four primary pitfalls  that any innovator needs to be vigilant about:
a) The problem they are solving isn’t an actual problem,
b) They forget that the customer is human,
c) The solution proposed doesn't solve the problem, or
d) The solution is not well communicated to customers.
In our experience as innovation consultants and practitioners, we have come to the firm conviction that Jobs to be Done (JTBD) is an effective method for avoiding the four key pitfalls of innovation and delivering products and services that truly respond to customers’ needs and wants. Jobs to be Done is a behavioral theory that describes why people behave the way they do, and it is a foundational skill for all innovators to master. Let’s look at the four key pitfalls of innovation and how Jobs to be Done can help you avoid them:
a) The problem you are solving for is not really a problem
A common tendency is to jump into brainstorming ideas and go straight to bringing a product or service to market. This overlooks a critical stage in the innovation process: identifying both the problem that you are trying to solve for, and its root causes, before looking for innovative solutions. Companies oftentimes spend years investing in new ideas and solutions, but they forget to spend an even larger amount of time on truly understanding the problem that their customers are facing. As a result, many end up solving the wrong problems. As Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt said “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole”.
Jobs to be Done is a market research method focused on uncovering the underlying tasks (or “jobs”) that customers are trying to get done in their lives. Jobs are foundational for understanding what motivates your customers and why customers behave the way they do – which is key to differentiating between root problems and mere symptoms. Moreover, Jobs to be Done is a broad yet rigorous method for differentiating between points of opportunity and areas of competition. This can save you from giving in to the temptation of just mimicking your competitors and overlooking hidden opportunities. Instead, by focusing on the “why” behind customer behavior, Jobs to be done gives you a deeper understanding of customers’ jobs and allows you to focus on crafting the most appealing innovations that will actually get the job done.
b) Don’t forget that the customer is human
Customers are not just data sets or demographics. They are actual human beings. Failing to understand their desires, motivations, and the drivers of their behavior results in superficial or unsustainable solutions.
At its core, innovation is about understanding and responding to the underlying emotions that drive human behavior. When designing products and services, it is common to assume that humans are rational beings making decisions based on cost-benefit analyses. And yet, the reality is that most of the decisions we make in life boil down to emotional or social factors. When was the last time you did a cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether to go to the movie theater or stream the same movie from your home? The truth is that, far from being purely rational beings, customers make emotional decisions first, and then rationalize their choices. Along the same lines, it might be tempting to only classify your customers according to key demographics—such as age, ethnicity, income, or geographical location. However, grouping them according to their motivations, drivers, and aspirations can be a much more effective way of understanding and targeting your customer base.
Jobs to be Done enables you to understand the emotional jobs that people are trying to get done, which is often the best way to differentiate your offering from that of the competition. Showing that you understand the emotional side of a purchasing decision also helps you make your brand more relatable. Customers are often willing to pay a premium for offerings that deliver on both functional and emotional Jobs to be Done.
For instance, while people may superficially say that they select their healthcare providers according to their expertise and credentials, our Jobs to be Done research shows that emotions play a fundamental role in driving people’s choice of medical providers: they want a doctor with whom they feel taken care of. This is not to say that experience and credentials are not important—they clearly are—but understanding the emotional drivers behind people’s choices through Jobs to be Done can allow you to differentiate yourself from competitors by appealing to your customers’ underlying emotional needs.
c) The innovation solution doesn't really solve the problem
After having correctly identified the problem, many innovations still fail. Why is that? Innovative products and services may be beautifully designed, but they still may fail to address the fundamental issues at hand, and therefore be unable to generate behavioral changes and customer adoption. In fact, it is up to the customers to decide if your product solves their problem.
When we fail to understand what customers truly want, and how they define success, we can often bring to market a solution that doesn’t really solve the problem. And because many problems are emotional and not just functional, your solution must really address customers’ emotional needs to truly excel. The best innovation is that which addresses a problem by simultaneously fulfilling people’s functional and emotional jobs.
Uber is an excellent example of a company that identified the functional and the emotional jobs that consumers were trying to get done and created a solution to satisfy both. When evaluating the experience of using a taxi and thinking about the jobs that customers have, it’s pretty clear that people want to get from one place to another; however, Uber understood that the real opportunity to innovate was on the emotional side of the experience. One of the biggest pain points that consumers faced when using a taxi was the presence of uncertainty and subsequently, the lack of control: how long will it take me to get a taxi when I’m in a hurry? How long will it take me to get to my destination? Will the taxi driver choose the best route? How do I know if they’re not choosing a longer route to overcharge me? The key to Uber’s success is in great part due to their ability to greatly reduce uncertainty by handing the control to the consumer: with Uber, people can track their ride as soon as they request it and they know the price, the route and the ETA before even making the purchase.
By connecting the worlds of business and human psychology, Jobs to be Done allows you to ensure that your solution truly solves the functional and emotional sides of any problem. When we evaluate Jobs to be Done, we look for customers’ current approaches in trying to satisfy their job, and for the pain points associated with them—which are often imperfect solutions. We also analyze customers’ success criteria: the metrics that customers use to determine whether the job is satisfied. With this level of understanding, we can then evaluate a product or service to make sure that it is satisfying the job, easing customers’ pain points, and meeting customers’ emotional and functional success criteria.
d) The value proposition isn't communicated well to customers
Finally, many companies have brought great innovations to market that meet customers’ jobs, but they fail because of not properly communicating their benefits to customers. Innovations are solutions to problems, but in order to be adopted, companies must clearly articulate their usefulness to consumers.
We have worked with clients that have launched breakthrough innovations —drawing from deep insights to respond to the jobs that customers want to satisfy—but they struggle to clearly articulate to consumers why they should adopt them. This is particularly salient when your innovation is the first in the market and customers have little to no comparison point. In this case, companies need to invest in educating potential customers in clear and compelling ways as to generate behavioral changes. This will only happen when the benefits of adopting this new service or product outweigh the costs of switching behavior. It is not enough for your product to satisfy jobs: you actually need to communicate its benefits clearly in order to generate trial and repeat behavior, leading to sustainable adoption and behavioral change.
Jobs to be Done can help you ensure that your product and services’ marketing communication are articulated around the jobs that the customers want to satisfy. It often happens that a company’s brand strategy is tied to certain jobs, but not necessarily to the ones that most strongly drive consumer behavior.
We recently worked with a large health system to identify opportunities to refine its brand strategy based upon the relevant functional and emotional jobs that users seek to satisfy when choosing healthcare providers. After conducting a Jobs to be Done analysis, we discovered that, while our client’s brand strategy was aligned with several jobs, it was focusing on the same jobs that all other competitors were targeting. Most importantly, it was missing the most important high-level emotional job that customers were seeking to satisfy. We therefore developed recommendations for our client to re-focus its brand strategy on the jobs that were the most appealing to its target audience, and in the process, we helped it differentiate itself from competitors.
If your company is falling into any of these pitfalls, uncovering your customers’ Jobs to be Done can help. Over the past dozen years, New Markets Advisors has helped hundreds of organizations use Jobs to be Done to develop winning innovations, product strategies, and actionable business plans. Our firm’s leadership worked for years to develop and refine the concept with Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who first popularized the Jobs to be Done theory. We now stand as a global leader in Jobs to be Done, having a long trajectory applying it to hundreds of contexts and helping companies outperform their competitors. If you’re interested in learning more about Jobs to be Done and how it can help you become a better innovator, you can visit our Jobs to be Done resource page.
 Chris Colbert, former managing director of Harvard Innovation Labs, for pitfalls a, b and c.